The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions
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Mikheil Saakashvili: Power Grab
HITS: 2413 | 21-12-2005, 23:09 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Political leaders, War and peace
“We call Saakashvili Stalin …he is good, fair and that is why” (a citizen, Imedi TV, 19th February, 2005)
“We had the first televised revolution in history. We were live on CNN for four and a half hours without a commercial” (Saakashvili – Knight Ridder Newspapers, 9th March, 2005)
To describe the November 2003 events in Georgia as a ‘revolution’ indicates a failure to understand the trajectory taken by revolutions in the past. Yet, most Georgians, including those disenchanted by the Saakashvili regime, continue to repeat this oxymoron. As BHHRG pointed out in its report on the November 2003 election, the main beneficiaries were all former ministers and leading cadres in the ex-president’s political party. Historically, a revolution has signalled a break: neither Louis XV1’s ministers nor relatives of the Tsar took power after the respective revolutions in France and Russia. People’s failure to notice any improvement in their lives in Georgia since November 2003 may be because the same people are running the country as they did during the 1990s.
HITS: 2140 | 21-12-2005, 22:50 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Georgia , Politics, War and peace
Mafia shootouts, harassment of the opposition and media, political prisoners … it’s business as usual in Georgia. It is nearly two years since the republic of Georgia experienced what became known as a ‘Rose Revolution’. News media around the world heralded this development as the dawn of a new era in which the impoverished former Soviet republic sloughed off a corrupt and moribund regime to embrace young, market-orientated reformers under the leadership of Western-educated Mikhael Saakashvili who was elected the country’s president in January 2004. A year later, in November 2004, another ‘colour-coded’ revolution took place, this time in Ukraine. Again, the media pointed to Saakashvili and Georgia as the successful model for the latest spontaneous outburst of ‘people power’. The Georgian president was a regular commentator on the stand-off in Kiev offering comradeship and support to his fellow revolutionary, Viktor Yushchenko.
During the 1990s, BHHRG regularly criticized the Shevardnadze regime for human rights abuses and electoral fraud. However, by 2001, this darling of the West was unexpectedly feeling the heat and the message was clear: regime change was in the air. Paradoxically, by this time, some things were improving in Georgia. All political prisoners (mainly supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia) had been released, the media was free and television, in particular, regularly broadcast exposés of the regime’s perceived wrongdoings. Finally, in 2003, no doubt aware of the vultures circling above, the government conducted clean parliamentary elections for the first time since 1992. Those who repeatedly point to fraud in this poll overlook the fact that by ‘cheating’ the Citizen’s Union (the government party) only claimed 21% support of the electorate. There was no criticism from the West when Mikheil Saakashvili won a Stalin-style 96% of the vote in the presidential election held in January 2004 and, later in March, when the National Movement party won nearly all the seats in parliament.
There seems little doubt that Latvia is pursuing a nationalities policy which, if adopted anywhere else, would be the object of universal condemnation. There is effectively no criticism at all of this full-frontal assault on the established rights of a sizeable and historic population. Instead, Latvia continues to receive support for its policies. Estonia is in a similar position. There, a similar version of the same law is being introduced, albeit with a longer transitional period. BHHRG interviewed a former director of the Russian Cultural Centre in Tallinn, Arkady Prisjazny. Married to an Estonian, Prisjazny said that there was simply no dialogue between the Estonians and the Russians in Estonia. He quoted examples of aggressive anti-Russian sentiment being expressed by government officials, such as when on 29th January 2002 the new head of the secret police said that the country’s primary goal was to get rid of the “Russian spectre”.
Although their rights are under attack, Latvia's Russian minority is ignored by the international community. During the whole period of so-called democratic “transition” in Eastern Europe, minority rights have been a growth industry for international human rights activists. They have received special attention in the Balkans, where national minorities have been at the heart of international interference in the region since the treaty of Versailles. In Macedonia, in Romania and in Serbia the issue of minority rights - especially the right to education in the minority mother tongue - has frequently been at the forefront of political debate. So great is the importance attached to them, indeed, that in the case of Serbia, the changing of the school history curriculum in Kosovo in 1989 to include more Serbian history, and less of the history of neighbouring Albania, was seriously advanced as one of the casus belli for the Albanian uprising ten years later. In Macedonia, from 2000, the failure of the Macedonian state to recognise the freelance Albanian-language University of Tetovo was also used as an excuse to start an armed rebellion – a rebellion which was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by the international community.
Events in Andijan: Will international scrutiny get to the bottom of what happened?
HITS: 2222 | 24-08-2005, 23:28 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , PR and human rights, Global Events
Demands for an “independent international inquiry” into the events in Andijan came thick and fast after 13th May. Getting reliable information was clearly difficult and yet providing a clear account of what happened would certainly help any peaceful settlement of the dispute. Nonetheless, the loudest voices calling for such an “independent international inquiry” have form. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has hardly encouraged openness about his own country’s role in imprisoning suspected terrorists or their treatment in US custody. The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Louise Arbour, was the Prosecutor at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, whose Canadian citizenship did not recuse her from charging Slobodan Milosevic with genocide when country Canada was participating in a war with his. The perception of Western hypocrisy is as important as the reality of any faults in the West’s treatment of suspects of terrorism or “rogue regimes”.
HITS: 3421 | 24-08-2005, 20:01 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Analyzing, War and peace
“The trial opened in February, and by last week, a sentence was due. The trial had already brought thousands into the streets of Andijan for peaceful protests, and the protest leaders promised massive resistance if the men were convicted. But the sentence never came.” Although regional specialists and locally-based journalists and NGO activists had followed the trial of Twenty-three businessmen in Andijan on charges of Islamic fundamentalist subversion before 12th May, 2005, the impending crisis had passed the outside world by. Yet it is important to note that before the trouble broke out, contrary to the image of a relentlessly intolerant police state, one of Uzbekistan’s main critics, Daniel Kimmage of RFE, reported, “The brother of one defendant told uznews.net, “We are ready to do anything in order to free our innocent brothers.” Police have not interfered in the demonstrations, which are unusual in their size and degree of organization, according to observers...” The glib descriptions in Western media after 13th May of Uzbekistan as a state where protests were never tolerated were not matched by evidence from reporters there before the violence broke out.
The Andijan Tragedy: Why no pictures of the “massacre” itself?
HITS: 2341 | 24-08-2005, 19:47 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Uzbekistan , Analyzing, War and peace
Whether William Randolph Hearst ever telegraphed the infamous phrase, “You provide the pictures and I’ll provide the war” to Frederick Remmington after his complaint in 1897 that there was no sign of war in Cuba is open to doubt. However, the widespread acceptance of this iconic statement of the power of the press baron is very revealing since it simultaneously indicates that people suspect that much of what they are told as news is “imaginary” to put it kindly and yet still such is the power of images that they impose a picture of events on us. That was in the age of newspapers. Today publics in the West are commonly supposed to be in thrall to the audio-visual media but strangely enough our own electronic age no longer requires pictures to confirm words. Vivid prose and radio pictures are all that the posse of journalists and NGO activists in Andijan on that dreadful day can offer us by way of description of events. Pictures exist of before the “massacre” and of its aftermath but not of the event itself. This is a curious omission in an age of ubiquitous photographic devices.
Enter the Labour Party: On 13th June, Lithuania also held its first elections to select 13 MPs to the European parliament. From the established parties the Social Democrats won 2 seats, the Liberal-Centrist Union, 2, Homeland Union 2, Liberal Democrats, 1, Farmers and New Democracy, 1. Although Paksas’s Liberal Democrats might have expected to gain support after the acknowledged unpopularity of the impeachment process, the main winner was the upstart Labour Party led by Viktor Uspaskich, a former Social Liberal MP, which won 5 seats. Lithuania’s Labour Party is a classic jack-in-the-box creation which suddenly appeared in October 2003 and immediately took a lead in the opinion polls. It mirrors similar parties that have emerged, seemingly from nowhere, in several former Communist countries. For instance, the Smer (Direction) party in Slovakia and Bulgaria’s National Movement for Simeon 11 were created to drain support away from genuine opposition parties – in the case of Slovakia, from Vladmir Mečiar’s HZDS and in Bulgaria, from the Socialist Party (BSP). As Paksas continued to attract large numbers to his meet-the-people sessions the possibility presented itself that large numbers would vote Liberal Democrat in parliamentary elections scheduled for October, 2004.
Whereas in South Korea, the Supreme Court (silently) acknowledged the will of the people as clearly expressed in the general election and reversed the parliamentary impeachment vote, in Lithuania it is precisely the Constitutional Court which has pre-empted the judgement of the people. The Lithuanian Court chose to go beyond even what Paksas’s parliamentary enemies sought. Like it or not, the Court made itself a central player in a political crisis by taking the initiative to enact a far-reaching constitutional law not expressed in any part of the written text. Leaving aside a likely appeal to the ECHR in Strasbourg as the Court’s ruling cannot now be directly challenged in Lithuania, it may not be the final word on the matter. Various possibilities remain open to the Paksas camp for challenging the lifetime ban. First of all, a constitutional change might be pushed through by referendum. Or, the composition of the Court might alter as new judges replace the existing ones when their terms expire. Parliamentary elections due in the autumn might produce a majority which would not accept judges known to agree with the current Court’s anti-Paksas stance. As in America, nominations to the Constitutional Court could become bitterly contested.